How to become a Heli-ski guide
The road to becoming a Heli-ski guide is a long one, but the dream job of skiing endless fresh powder in extraordinary landscapes sure makes it worthwhile. Naturally, there is a lot of responsibility that comes with the qualification which is why extensive experience and knowledge is needed before one can carry the job title: ‘Heli-ski guide.’
The most important lesson of the process is that you must be patient. The process of becoming a guide takes at least ten years and then more often than not another decade until you are working full-time.
The New Zealand Mountain Guide Association (NZGMA) provides the courses, training, and certificates needed for the job. Before even considering training to be a guide, the participant must have significant skiing and backcountry experience - according to the NZGMA, a minimum three-year personal apprenticeship in the mountains is necessary before considering guides training.
The next prerequisite is the Avalanche Course Stage-1 certificate and a current Pre-Hospital Emergency Care certificate. From here, the aim is to become an assistant ski guide. To achieve this, one must complete 3 smaller qualifications:
These courses are to be followed by a 14-day Level 1 Ski Training/ Assessment Exam which includes both in-field and theory-based assignments. During all this training you will need to have a steady income - many prospective guides in Wanaka and Queenstown work as ski patrol on the ski fields and pick up other seasonal jobs as needed.
This Level 1 course grants you assistant guide status. Within this role, the aim is to log a certain amount of hours and build a portfolio of experience. Here at HMH, we aim to take on an assistant guide every couple of seasons. This is always fun for us as the majority of our guides have been here for 10+ years, and it’s always good to have a new face around!
After a couple of seasons as an assistant guide, the applicant may feel ready to continue their qualifications. NZGMA provides a list of prerequisites before one can begin the Level 2 course. This list includes an Avalanche Level 2 pass, written recommendations from the lead and chief guides, and a minimum of 20 days of supervised ski-guiding work. After matching all these requirements, future guides must complete the Level 2 14-day Ski Assessment Course to gain the qualification of NZGMA Ski Guide.
Whilst the path is arduous and long, it is just as much about the journey as the final destination. You must enjoy the process, continue having your own adventures, and at all steps follow your passion for skiing and spending time in the mountains.
Remember, guiding is not a nine-to-five job, it is a way of life.